It seems like there is an app for everything nowadays. But the problem is that from the millions of apps out there, many of them don’t get that many downloads, hence the need to growth hack.

Let me just tell you how I, for one, start my day. Obviously, I have to go to work, and I must admit that I’m definitely not a morning person. So, I set my alarm. But I know that as soon as I turn it off, I will go right back to sleep. Thankfully, someone out there who knows the struggle that we, the not-so-morning-persons go through, decided to make an app that allows you to stop your alarm, ONLY after you solve some math problems. I must tell you, there’s nothing that wakes you up better than this thing. Not even the dog licking your face, or a neighbor drilling a hole in the wall.

After that, of course, I check my email, my Facebook, and my Twitter on the go, from my phone. And as the day goes on, I might check the weather through an app, use an app to see what events are happening that day, or that week and so on.

So let’s see, how do you growth hack a smartphone app when there are so many?

First of all, I want to point out tactics that drive acquisition.

Reach out to bloggers

The trick here is to reach out to bloggers that could help you reach your goal. For instance, if your app is local, don’t reach out to bloggers that are from a different area. This way, you won’t be getting any response. Instead, focus on the type of bloggers you need, find your niche, and make a list with the ones that are active, and have an engaged public. If there’s a blogger that is well-known, and people take in consideration what he has to say, there will be higher chances that his audience will start using your app, if they read an article about it.

Also, you can point out that not only will you benefit from this connection you’re establishing, but the blogger will also. Let him know that this represents an opportunity for him as well, because he can reach a new audience. Benefits should go both ways.

Make a userbase before the actual launch of the app

The user base will be the starting point of your growth hacking plan. Ask people to leave their email, so they can receive exclusive news, or deals. You can even choose a launch party for your app, and you can say that the first 200 people that sign up to the email list, will have access at the party (since it’s obviously, a VIP party). Wouldn’t that be fun? Well, depending on the size of that user base, and the bloggers you involve in this process, and depending on other stuff too, it may turn out pretty great.

Create some buzz around your app

Since forever, word of mouth is still known as a powerful promotion technique. Especially when you know who to talk to. Did you know that Tapstream is a company that can help you with that? So, how do they do that? They “transform your user base into a powerful acquisition channel”. They also have some case studies on their website, including one involving HootSuite, the well-known social media management system. On their blog, there are some success stories, too.

If you want to create buzz on your own, there are a few things you can do. Tell your friends about your idea. Then, tell your friends to tell their friends. Create a landing page that announces the launch of your app. Make it sound exciting. On the landing page, you can put a countdown, and ask people to leave their email address, so they are the first ones that find out about the launch. This step is connected to the userbase one.


Let’s say that your company has a website, and you made an app for that website, so that it’s easier for users to access it from their smartphones. But how do you know if people actually use your app or not? With attribution you can find out whether people skip the download button or not, and from what platforms devices come the most users (iOS, or Android).

After you have these results, you can then optimize the page, and make it so that it gets as many downloads as it can. And don’t forget about keeping the users engaged. For example, HootSuite saw that iOS users were most likely to download their app, so they decided to focus their attention towards them.

Use analytics tools

You have an app, but you have no idea which are the marketing channels that work for you. Analytics will tell you: how many visitors of your website actually download the app; if your ads are really working; how many already existing users make in-app purchases. To solve this problems you should redesign your website for maximum conversioncreate landing pages for ads, and lower prices in the app store. These are key issues you need to solve, so as to have customer success.

Use AdWords

Don’t use social media advertising, if you don’t have time to do it consistently. Instead, focus on AdWords. It lets you target the type of users that are most likely to interact with you (iOS or Android). If your app is related to, let’s say beauty, use this keyword to target people that search apps related to this subject.

Organic growth done right

How is this possible? Timehop is an app that proved organic growth still exists. It is a fun app, that allows you to see photos and updates from the past. Let’s see how Timehop growth hacked it’s way to the top of the app store.

First of all, they spent no money whatsoever on marketing, or on anything for that matter. The app launched in 2012, but the server kept crushing constantly. One year later, they were close to making it work right. They built in an API system, which gave to new users their Timehop of the day. They say that between installing the app, and actually open it, they had 10 to 20 seconds to make a move. To make users return to Timehop everyday, they gave them the false impression that if they didn’t check today’s Timehop, it was gone forever. This was one of the things that increased user engagement. Of course, making it easier to share with friends is also important. But how did they make it successful? The text or the email users sent through Timehop, generated an embeddable widget, that showed the recipients the logo and the memory of the photo or update, so they didn’t have to click on an external link.

Using the right techniques, organic growth still exists, if it’s done properly.

After you managed to get people to download your app, now you need to make them keep using it. Following are a couple of tactics that are used to increase engagement.

Push notifications

I have so many interesting apps on my phone, but it happens that sometimes I get so busy that I forget about them. Push notifications are great when you want to send time-limited messages. It’s a good idea to use geo-targeted push notifications, when you want to send a message about a sale or a special offer. Your app can also push notifications on your friends’ activity. Shazam is an app that does that. It sends you a notification, when a friend of yours signs up.

Nevertheless, it’s important to let people decide whether they want to receive notifications or not. For some, getting notifications all the time may seem annoying, and it will not results in a good growth hacking tactic.

Onboarding links

This one requires an example. Yummly is one of the top apps that offers recipes. Over 500 000 of them, and has millions of users. You must be wondering then how come they faced a growth hacking barrier. Well, they thought that it was a good idea to add interstitials, when users would move from a recipe to another. But this instead of driving new app downloads, and keeping users engaged, did exactly the opposite, as the first day abandonment rate was sky high.

So, how did they fix that? They made sure that each person that downloaded the app from a recipe page, would land on the exact recipe, when they opened the app for the first time. The result? An increased number in user retention. So, if you want to make the users actually use your app, make sure you offer them a link that directs them to the app.

Growth hacking done wrong

Unfortunately, for some companies, this practice means to invite all of your friends to use the app. Glide is one app that does that. It encourages you to get started by inviting all your friends to the chat. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, many companies don’t use growth hacking as they should, but more as a spam tool. Let people choose who are the friends, or the people they want to send invites to, or they will decide not to use your app anymore. They’ll have many more to choose from.

Growth hacking done right

OK, so Glide failed with the invite-all-friends feature. Draw Something, however, managed to reach 100 million active daily users. WOW! How did they do that? They used Facebook connections, a feature that encouraged users to invite their friends.

Use growth hack responsibly

The thing is that there is no secret tactic or strategy of how you can growth hack apps. It’s going to be different every time, depending on your product. What is the best way you can learn? Through examples, of course. So do some research and see what other people did to grow their app. Every product is like no other, so find out the right strategy that will work for you. And more importantly, find out what doesn’t work.

Have you ever considered growth hacking a mobile app? What would be your tips for doing that?

Cristina Coroiu